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Questions regarding the described 1886 ordinations

Of all of the assertions made by Lorin Woolley in the 1920, none is more important that his descriptions of ordinations that allegedly occurred on September 27, 1886.  According to Lorin's 1929 account, he and four other men then received lofty authority to continue plural marriage:[1]

          He [John Taylor] called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins [Wilcken], George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and myself.  He then set us apart[1] and place us under covenant that while we lived we would see to it that no year passed by without children being born in the principle of plural marriage.  We were given authority to ordain others if necessary to carry this work on, they in turn to be given authority to ordain others when necessary, under the direction of the worthy senior (by ordination), so that there should be no cessation in the work...

        John Taylor set the five mentioned apart and gave them authority to perform marriage ceremonies, and also to set others apart to do the same thing as long as they remained on the earth...[2]

            Within these two paragraphs we find perhaps the most significant assertion Lorin Woolley or any other Mormon fundamentalist has ever shared.  LDS theology stresses the importance of the proper authority in sealing plural marriages.  If the details presented are true, Woolley was describing a legitimate connection to the keys of sealing that were then held by the “one” man, John Taylor. 

Evidences Supporting 1886 Ordinations

This section is devoted to citing the evidences supporting the likelihood that five men were ordained: 

1. Lorin Woolley remembered that the ordinations occurred. 

2. 

[I have been unable to identify any other specific evidence for 1886 ordinations, but am awaiting research offered from fundamentalist sources.]

Evidences Against 1886 Ordinations 

This section is devoted to citing the evidences against the likelihood that five men were ordained: 

1. Lorin Woolley is the only witness of these important ordinances.  Lorin reported that thirteen people attended the eight hour meeting before the described 1886 ordinations were performed, but only Lorin left his testimony. This lack of witnesses to these crucial ordinations contrasts scriptural guidelines.  We are told that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (D&C 6:28, 2 Corinthians 13:1).  When important priesthood ordinations occurred, at least two witnesses were present. For the bestowal of the Aaronic priesthood (D&C 13:1), the Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 27:12), and important keys of the Priesthood (D&C 110:11-13), both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were there bearing witness.

Fundamentalist apologists have defended this solo witness by observing that Joseph Smith was alone when he received the First Vision.  However, there is a difference between personal visions and the conferral of priesthood authority.  “It is necessary to know who holds the keys of power, and who does not, or we may be likely to be deceived” instructed Joseph Smith.13  To help inquirers, God has provided witnesses to priesthood conferrals.

2.  Lorin Woolley waited thirty-five years to first mention this important ordination.  No specific evidence has been found to support that anyone knew of these special ordinations prior to the 1920s.  No journal entries, no notes from meetings of the five men, no letters written or discourses given with reference to these important ordinations.  Nothing but thirty-five years of silence has been identified.  Interestingly, it also appears that Lorin never attempted to use that authority until the late 1920s.

          Historian D. Michael Quinn admitted:  “I find no historical contemporary evidence to support that ordination of the Council of Friends in 1886… As a historian, I have no evidence that there was a setting apart or an ordination of a Council of Friends in 1886… I would be more than happy to find verification, and if I did find it, I certainly wouldn't conceal evidence of the ordination of men in 1886 as a Council of Friends to continue plural marriage… I find no evidence of that event prior to Lorin Woolley's detailed statements on various occasions in the 1920s concerning the 1886 ordination.”  (August, 1991 meeting with the Allred Group, Bluffdale, Utah.) 

3.  Woolley’s 1929 account does not mention the “one” man who holds the keys of sealing.  It does not clarify whether the “worthy senior” mentioned is also the “one” man on earth at a time who is anointed and appointed to hold the keys of sealing as described by Joseph Smith in D&C 132:7, 18, 19.  If the “worthy senior” is not the “one” man, then there is confusion regarding who presides.  Are these men authorized to perform plural marriages once John Taylor has died or do they need to consult the next Church President (Senior Apostle) for permission?  Other questions emerge regarding the fact that Lorin’s testimony is the only one in existence attesting to these important ordinations[3] and  the obvious problems with “secret ordinations.”[4] 

4.  There is no evidence that Samuel Bateman ever sealed a marriage.  Samuel Bateman was a powerfully built man who had led the first platoon under Captain Lot Smith in the guerrilla action against the invading U.S. Army in 1857.  He and Orrin Porter Rockwell were considered the “keepers of the peace who filled the gap between no control and the control of law and order which slowly developed” in the Utah territory.[5]  Later Bateman served as a member of the Salt Lake City police force and also was known to accompany Brigham Young on his tours throughout the territory.[6]   Samuel, who was also a polygamist,[7] was chosen by John Taylor to serve as his personal bodyguard when the two of them entered the “underground” early in 1885.[8]  After President Taylor’s death, Samuel became a guard and driver for President Woodruff and his counselors.  However by late 1888, he tired of life on the underground and turned himself in to the sheriff.  He was fined seventy-five dollars and given a prison term.[9]

While Samuel Bateman “insisted on his children marrying within the Church,”[10] no evidence has come to light to suggest that he ever performed any type of marriage ceremony.  His daughter wrote a book describing many events from his life, but nothing is mentioned that would support the idea that he had received a lofty priesthood responsibility in 1886.  Regarding the 1890 Manifesto, she wrote that her father’s “intelligence told him that time and circumstances may change, even that which he believed had been revealed by God.”[11]  He attended the October Conference when the 1890 Manifesto was presented and recalled that “some power not my own” raised his arm.  “I voted to sustain President Woodruff in this matter.  As soon as I had done it a sense of peace and contentment came over me.”[12]  It appears that he did indeed sustain the 1890 Manifesto, fathering no more children afterwards.[13]

Samuel Bateman’s oldest son, Daniel, was an avid supporter of Lorin Woolley during the 1920s and 1930s and would often confirm the recollections that Lorin would recite at fundamentalist gatherings.  Despite Woolley’s statement that thirteen were in attendance at the meeting on 27 September 1886, Daniel Bateman is the only other person to corroborate the story.[14]  However, Daniel admitted that he “was not present when the five spoken of by Brother Woolley were set apart for special work...”[15]  Daniel never explained why he missed his father’s important ordination that day.  And he admitted that during the next twenty-five years, his father “did not tell him so” regarding it.[16]  Daniel and Samuel were very close, living only a short distance from each other for many years after 1886.[17]  If the elder Bateman held an important priesthood calling or the authority to seal eternal marriages, by his son’s own admission, Samuel was very successful in hiding it from his own family.[18]  Daniel reported that he first learned of his father's priesthood ordination from a “Brother Finlayson,” who wrote to him about it some time after his father’s death in January, 1911.[19]  

5. There is no evidence that Charles H. Wilcken ever sealed a marriage.  Charles Henry Wilcken (sometimes Wilkins) was a large man, a veteran of the German army who had been decorated with the Iron Cross for bravery on the battlefield.  He came to Utah with General Johnston’s invading army in 1857 and was converted to the gospel.  He served a mission for the Church in 1871-73, then attached himself to Brigham Young as his devoted protector.  Following Young’s death in 1877, his allegiance shifted to President John Taylor and later to George Q. Cannon[20] and Wilford Woodruff.[21]  During his life, Charles Wilcken experienced two failed marriages and several frustrations as an unsuccessful real estate speculator.  Nevertheless, he remained devoted to the Church,[22] being ordained a patriarch by President Joseph F. Smith on 13 April 1911 and serving the last few years of his life as a guide on Temple Square, dying in 1914.  Nothing in the history of Charles H. Wilcken has been yet identified to suggest that he performed plural marriages or had received the commission and authority that Woolley would, years after his death, claim that he held. 

6. There is no evidence that George Q. Cannon was a member of a secret group.  Cannon was ordained an apostle in 1860.  Concerning the apostleship, Brigham Young taught:  “The High Priesthood, and the Lesser Priesthood, and all the Priesthood there is are combined, centered in, composed of, and circumscribed by the apostleship,”[23] Accordingly, having already received the apostleship, it appears that there was little Elder Cannon might have gained through any other ordination.  Regarding the Woodruff Manifesto, Cannon taught in 1891: 

If the Lord were not with this Church, if he were not directing His servants, and the people themselves did not have the testimony of Jesus concerning this work, the issuance of that manifesto would have had a fatal effect upon thousands, perhaps, in the Church.  I can say for myself that I never shrunk from anything in my life as I did from that.  I know it was God who dictated it B that it was issued in accordance with the requirements of the Spirit of God; and I also know that every member of this Church who is living in close communion with the Lord has had a testimony B notwithstanding their natural feelings with reference thereto, notwithstanding the painful consequences which followed its adoption in relation to existing family relations B that it was the right thing to do....

Go and plead with the Lord; ask Him to remove the darkness from your minds, to give you the light of the Holy Spirit, that it may shine upon your understanding, that you may comprehend it [the Manifesto] and you will not wait upon Him in vain.  I can assure you that He will hear your prayers and answer them; He will fill you with peace and joy, and you will know for yourselves that this is God’s work.[24] 

          7. John W. Woolley left no testimony of the described ordinations.  John is the only one of the five men, besides Lorin, who was still alive during the 1920s when the younger Woolley taught of 1886 meeting and ordinations.  John was in his nineties at the time and was quite hard of hearing.[25]  If he believed the things his son Lorin was teaching, he left no written record of his testimony.[26] 

            John holds and immensely important position in Mormon fundamentalist tradition because besides being one of the five men his son Lorin listed as being ordained in 1886, most polygamists today believe that at one point before his 1928 death, John held the keys of sealing and was the "President of the Priesthood" (a priesthood office unheard of prior to 1933).  An interesting picture of John Woolley emerges as contemporary documents are consulted and fundamentalist traditions scrutinized.

            For most of his life, John W. Woolley was a monogamist.  He experienced plural marriage with two wives for only six years between 1886 and 1892.  John was sealed to Julia Seales Ensign March 20, 1851 with whom he had six children.  On October 4, 1886, he wed Ann Everington Roberts for time only and lived the principle of plural marriage until 1892 when his first wife died.  Roberts was the widow of B. H. Roberts and bore Woolley no offspring.  Ann passed away January 11, 1910 and two months later on March 23, John married 39 year old Annie Fisher for time only as well.  Despite the comparative brevity and limited plurality that John experienced in his personal polygamy, he was nevertheless a constant follower of plural marriage.

            While the elder Woolley performed plural marriages before and after his excommunication in 1914,[27] he stated his belief that his authorization came from the Church President through Matthias Cowley rather than an 1886 ordination.  John W. Woolley secretly performed the sealings of Warren Longurst and Evan Allred in Salt Lake City, Utah, 17 November 1909 and was involved with other polygamous marriages prior to that time.  Subsequently, John W. Woolley was called into a session with the Council of the Twelve, but disclaimed any association with those who were involved with new plural marriages.[28]

As a close friend of John Woolley, President Smith performed his civil marriage in 1910.[29]  “Some time later, President Smith said to him, 'John, I am happy to know that you have not been involved in any of those so-called plural marriages.’  John W. Woolley hesitated a moment and then replied: 'President Smith, I cannot lie to you.  I am guilty.’  Then he confessed his wrongdoing.”[30]  Upon learning of this, President Joseph F. Smith notified Francis Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

A Church Court was held 16 January 1914 resulting in Woolley’s disfellowshipment.  In an attempt to retain his membership, he wrote: “Some months ago I met Matthias F. Cowley on the street and he asked me if I was familiar with the sealing ceremony.  I told him I was.  He said, 'If any good men come to you don’t turn them down.’  I believed from that statement that it was still proper that plural marriages be solemnized, and that President Smith had so authorized Cowley to instruct me.[31]  Since that time I have married wives to Nathan G. Clark, Joseph A. Silver, Reuben G. Miller, and K. Lemmon, Jr.”  All of these men were subsequently called up for Church discipline.[32]

The Quorum of the Twelve considered Woolley’s case on March 30th.  Apostle James E. Talmage recorded: “It became our painful duty to take action by which Brother John W. Woolley was excommunicated from the Church for insubordination and disobedience to the regulations of the Church.  It may be here stated that Brother Woolley, according to evidence and his own confession, has been instrumental in bringing about the unauthorized and sinful pretenses for plural marriage in the cases of other brethren who have been of late visited with the extreme penalty of excommunication.”[33] 

Having already excommunicated most of the men sealed by John Woolley, a letter from the First Presidency was sent addressing the status of the women who were also involved in those plural marriages.  On 11 March 1915, Apostle Francis M. Lyman was instructed: “Joseph F. Smith recommends 'disfellowship or excommunication’ for plural wives and polygamous marriages performed by John W. Woolley.”[34] 

During the years following his excommunication, John Woolley desired to be reinstated[35] and in 1918 he asked his half-brother, George E. Woolley[36] to assist as an intermediary with the General Authorities.[37]  John related how “he felt very keenly being on the outside of the Church” and confessed that “he had suffered very much in his feelings” as a consequence of his excommunication.[38]

          An examination of the lives of the five men Lorin Woolley described as receiving special priesthood ordinations in 1886 fails to reveal any significant supportive documentation for Lorin's recollections.  Conveniently three of the five were long deceased when Lorin started telling his story about the ordinations (thirty-five years after they allegedly occurred).  Even his father, who was still living, failed to leave any corroborating record.

    Admittedly there is room for more research regarding the lives of these five men.  Ironically, Mormon fundamentalists have expended little or no energy sifting the historical record for any supportive evidence.  Perhaps additional scrutiny will uncover that supportive evidence.  Perhaps not.  The opportunity awaits those who have placed their eternal salvation in the hands of Lorin Woolley and his undocumented stories about 1886 ordination, which he first related in the 1920s and 1930s.


[1]    On 27 September 1932 Musser recorded Woolley saying: “Instructions to the Five: You will have the weight of this world upon you, and one of you will have to stand alone.  Joseph Smith laid his hands upon the heads while John Taylor set them apart or acted as mouth.”  ("Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser," 38; names expanded.)

[2]  Musser, 1929 Account of Lorin Woolley's recollections regarding an 1886 eight-hour meeting.

[3]    LDS scriptures record that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (D&C 6:28; see also Matt. 18:16, 2 Cor. 13:1).  Daniel Bateman also signed the 1929 account, affirming its accuracy but admitted that he “was not present when the five spoken of by Brother Woolley were set apart for special work...”  Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, 62.  Apparently, none of the other four men reportedly commissioned and authorized that day, including Lorin’s own father, John W. Woolley, left a testimony of those events.  Lorin’s witness of these important ordinations is the only one in existence.

[4]    D&C 42:11: “Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (italics added).

[5]    Israel Bennion papers.  CHD.

[6]    Gustive O. Larson, Americanization of Utah, 155-56.

[7]    He married Marinda Allen and together they had thirteen children, Daniel R. Bateman being the oldest and Juliaetta the youngest.  Samuel also wed Harriet Egbert who bore him eight children.  Jensen, Little Gold Pieces, 233.

[8]    Ibid., 113.

[9]    Ibid., 78, 127

[10]    Ibid., 139.

[11]    Ibid., 130.

[12]    Ibid.

[13]    His last child was Cora May Bateman born 23 February 1891.

[14]    In a meeting of Mormon fundamentalists 18 July 1938, Daniel Bateman reported “that he had shook hands with wife, after she had been to him on five occasions.  Also that he had shook hands with Jesus Christ out Savior, and knew that he lived.”  (Musser Journals, 18 July 1938.)

[15]  Musser, Supplement to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, 62.

[16]  Musser Journals, 21 December 1936.  The entry reads: “Being called upon, Daniel R. Bateman...Bore testimony that Mormonism is true.  His father, being one of the five set apart, did not tell him so, but did testify to Bro. Findlayson of the fact, and the latter had written to him of the event” (italics added).

[17]   Samuel Bateman recorded meetings with his son on the following dates during the first year after the proposed September 27, 1886 ordinations: (for the remainder of 1886) September 30; October 8,11,12,16,17,25; November 3,11,13,22,24,27,29; December 5,6,8,13,15,16,17,22,23,25. For 1887: January 1,2,4,5,6,7,8,12,14,18,20,29,30; February 4,7,10,18,19,20,26; March 2,5,7,8,9,10,12,13,21,24,27,28,29; April 2,5,7,8,9,11,13,19,23,25,30; May 1,3,4,7,9,14,16,20,21,31; June 2,11,12,14,16,17,28; July 4,5,10,25,26,27,28; August 2,3,4,5,7,8,15,16,18,20; September 6,8,14,16,18,19,20,23,26. Letters were sent to or received from Daniel Bateman on the following dates (1886) September 28; October 1,10,22,23,25; November 10. For 1887: January 22,25; February 1,7,18,23; April 16; May 2,4,25; June 7,8,30; July 2,13,15,22,28,31; August 1.

[18]   Hales and Anderson, Priesthood of Modern Polygamy, 69-70.

[19]    Musser Journals, 21 December 1936.

[20]    Gustive 0. Larson, Americanization of Utah ,155-56.  Cannon and O’Higgins, Under the Prophet, 24.  One day in 1888 Wilcken was visiting President George Q. Cannon in prison.  Cannon’s son recalled, “when a guard entered with his hat on.  Wilcken snatched it from his head. 'Never enter his presence,’ he said, 'without taking it off.’  And the guard never did again” (ibid., 81).

[21]    Thomas G. Alexander, “Wilford Woodruff and the Manifesto,” 202.

[22]    Seifrit, “Charles Henry Wilcken,” 321.  See also Amy Wilcken Pratt Romney, “Stories from the Life of Charles Henry Wilcken.”  See also, “Eighteen Hundred Fifty Seven,” Young Woman’s Journal, nos. 9 and 11, 1907, 393-97, 495-96; Wilford Woodruff Journals for 6 December 1893.

[23]    JD 1:134.  In 1879 Cannon taught, “my view is that the apostleship, now held in this Church, embodies all the authority bestowed by the Lord upon man in the flesh,” (JD 21:269).  John Taylor: “this is embraced in the Apostleship, which has been given by the Almighty, and which embraces all the keys, powers and authorities ever conferred upon man” (JD 19:124).

[24]    Brian H. Stuy,ed. Collected Discourses 2:212, 216, 6 April 1891.; italics added.

[25]    On 10 November 1921 Nathaniel Baldwin recorded in his journal: “Brother Clark and I went to Centerville in the evening to visit Brother Woolley.  Tried to fit the father, John Woolley, with an instrument to help his hearing.”

[26]    Two individuals referred to experiences wherein John W. Woolley reportedly mentioned an 1886 “eight hour meeting:” Leroy Johnson (LSJ Sermons, 1:341, 3:800) and Morris Kunz (Reminiscences on Priesthood, 8).  However, neither man quotes John Woolley as testifying that during that described meeting he was “ordained” with sealing authority.  In a 1971 interview, Price Johnson stated that in 1924, “after Brother [John] Woolley got through telling me his experiences, he bore witness to me that the Lord had prepared men to keep that principle alive when the Church would reject it” (Reminiscences of John W. and Lorin C. Woolley, 2nd ed., 2:54).  Unfortunately, it does not appear that John W. Woolley left a personal statement regarding the ordination that his son would describe for him.

[27]    Usually he would perform the marriages in his home, but he was known to seal in other locations including “on the sidewalk” (Bishop, 1886 Visitations of Jesus Christ, 141; interview with Price Johnson in Reminiscences of John W. and Lorin C. Woolley, 2nd ed., 2:53).

[28]    Letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to Dean Jesse, 13 July 1956.  In J. Max Anderson, Polygamy Story, 141. 

[29]    John Woolley was a widower when President Joseph F. Smith performed his civil marriage to Annie Fischer on 23 March 1910.  The Ancestral File does not list that Fischer had been previously sealed, so the reason for a civil marriage is unclear.

[30]   J. Max Anderson, Polygamy Story, 141-42. Another account written by Lloyd Ririe includes other details: "While in President Joseph F. Smith's office in Salt Lake City, John W. Woolley came into the President's office and asked if he could have a few weeks off from his work in the temple in order that he could visit with his Brother Sam who was then President of the Mission in the South Sea Islands.  I believe it was Samoa.  Brother Woolley was a worker then in the Salt Lake Temple.  President Smith gave him the time off that he wanted, and just as Brother Woolley was about to leave the President said, 'John it has been brought to my attention that you have been performing plural marriages in the Salt Lake Temple, is that correct?'  Brother Woolley, he said, rather hung his head and answered, 'Yes, President Smith I have.'"  (Statement written 13 April 1964.  Special Collections, B.Y.U; in J. Max Anderson, Polygamy Story, 141-42.)

[31]    Matthias Cowley "vehemently denied" that he had so authorized John W. Woolley.  Quinn, "Plural Marriages After Manifesto," talk given to the Allred fundamentalists 1991, typescript 6 .

[32]    J. Max Anderson, Polygamy Story, 143.  Affidavit is found in the Anthony W. Ivins papers, Utah State Historical Society.  Joseph A. Silver was excommunicated 14 January 1914, Nathan G. Clark on 20 January 1914 and Reuben G. Miller on 29 January 1914, each for  “insubordination to the government and discipline of the Church” (James E. Talmage Diaries for dates).    Peter K. Lemon doubted the authenticity of the marriage sealed by Woolley (see Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 328).  Anthony Ivin’s recorded 1 March 1914:  “In the evening K. Lemmon called at the hotel. I served notice on him to appear before the Council of Twelve and show cause why he should not be excommunicated for unlawfully taking a wife. He stated to me that Nathan G. Clark had written him that if he wished to take a plural wife to come to Centerville where he - Clark - would meet him at a house 2 blocks West. He followed directions and went to the house of a young man named Woolley and told him what he come for. The young man said there would be a man there soon to attend to the matter for him. Later an older man came to him and performed the ceremony. After concluding the man told him that he must say nothing about the marriage as they would both be excommunicated if it were found out. He told the girl, as soon as they were alone, that he did not believe it was a marriage at all, and it was all off. He had never lived with the girl as his wife and did not intend to do so until he had come to Salt Lake and satisfied himself that the ceremony was performed by proper authority. He had never talked with Bro. Cowley on the subject. He would appear before the Council and make a full statement of the facts. He had met Bro. Musser at the Fisher some time ago and he had told him that [John W.] Woolley had given the whole thing away.”  (In Jesse, Comparative Study, 242.)

[33]   James E. Talmage Diaries, 30 March 1914, CHD, restricted.

[34]   Quinn, Extensions of Power, 814.

[35]  In contrast, granddaughter Olive Woolley Coombs, remembered in 1971 that sometime between 1914 and 1918 they met President Joseph F. Smith at a stake conference.  “President Smith put his arm around Grandfather’s arm and said, 'John, I’m very sorry about what has been done.  I want you to know it wasn’t my will.  It was voted.  But I have the assurance that if you will come back into the Church secretly we are ready and willing.’  And he (Grandfather) said, ' I appreciate that very much, but since I was taken out publicly, the way you must take me back is publicly, because I feel I have done no wrong...”  (Reminiscences of John W. and Lorin C. Woolley, 2nd ed., 1:14.)

[36]   John Wickersham Woolley was the eighth child of Edwin Dilworth Woolley and Mary Wickersham Woolley.  George Edwin Woolley and Orson Alpin Woolley were third and fourth children of Edwin Dilworth Woolley and Mary Ann Olpin.

[37]   Letter from George E. Woolley to Alvira Woolley, 26 July 1918, CHD.

[38]   Letter from George E. Woolley to Orson A. Woolley, Magrath, Canada, 27 July 1918, CHD.